« PreviousContinue »
representatives of the nation, in the several treaties and conventions which they have attended. But it is a fact, which we state broadly, and it is the more remarkable, considering the large amount in cash paid out annually by our government to numerous tribes and half tribes-that, with the exception of one thousand dollars, pledged for the support of a school, the body of the Chippewa nation do not receive, and have never received, a dollar from the United States Treasury, in the shape of annuities. That their name is in several instances recited in our public treaties, previous to the year 1825, if we except the single instance of the treaty of Sagana, is attributable to the circumstance just mentioned.
Their political feelings, until within a short period, have not been of a character friendly to the American government. They were formerly passionately attached to the French, and subsequently as much so to the English. The withdrawing, however, of the fur trade within our limits, from the hands of foreigners, and the intercourse which has been established with the Chippewas, has done much to alleviate their jealousies, and place them on a friendly footing. If partial instances of hostility have, within a few years, occurred, it is sufficient to observe, that the causes of excitement were also partial.
Their government, so far as they exercise any, is placed in the hands of chiefs. They have village chiefs and war chiefs. The former are hereditary, the latter elective. Neither are invested with much power in advance. The occasion which calls for action, brings with it an expression of the general voice. The latter is implicitly obeyed; and it is the policy of the chiefs to keep a little in the rear of public sentiment. The power of both orders of chiefs, is only advisory; but that of the war chiefs predominates during a state of war. No formality is exercised in taking the sense of the village, or nation, as to public men or measures. Popular feeling is the supreme law. They exchange opinions casually, and these are final. Councils generally deliberate upon what has been, beforehand, pretty well settled.
Their religious affairs, mixed as they are with the knowledge of medicines and charms, are in the hands of Medicine-men, Jossakeeds and Wabenos. The society of the Medicine Dance has three orders of men, or rather three degrees of knowledge which are essential to proficiency, the Metay, the Sagemau, and the Ogemau. In its ceremonies, the Great Spirit is im
plored. The society of the Wabeno, is little more than a midnight revel; and the Evil Spirit is solicited to give efficacy to the incantations with which it is celebrated. It is a mere worship of Baal. It is said, however, to be of comparatively recent origin. Jossakeeds, slight-of-hand men and jugglers, are not necessarily connected either with the Medicine or Wabeno Societies. These different orders of men exercise considerable political, as well as moral influence, and often undertake to give a direction to public feeling in regard to pending measures. Thus they constitute, in fact, a second power of the government. When a council of chiefs is assembled to deliberate on general concerns, the Mudjee'kewis', or eldest born in the line of predominant chiefs, presides. Such was the ancient, and such is still, as we are informed, the prevailing custom.
In speaking of their former condition and ancient customs, they look back to a sort of golden age, when their government possessed more energy; when crimes were promptly punished, and good deeds highly applauded; when they spoke a purer language, kept their fasts more strictly, and were less relaxed in their morals and institutions. We are among those who think that their customs and manners, laws and observances, have not materially changed, at least since the days of Cabot and Hudson; and that the golden age of the Indian, like that of the white man, never had any other than an imaginary existence. Too much stress is laid upon the transforming effects of their intercourse with Europeans, as if, in all that relates to their moral condition and prospects, they had not been gainers! The introduction of ardent spirits, though its effects have been baneful, has added no new item to the catalogue of Indian crimes, nor has it subtracted one, from the list of their cardinal virtues. We do not appear, of course, as the apologists of the vice of intemperance, nor have we any wish to conceal the wretchedness it entails upon the miserable creatures who hang around the skirts of our military posts, and frontier towns. But we believe it has produced far less effect upon the institutions and customs of the Indians, as they now exist in the great plains and forests of the Mississippi and the Lakes, than is generally believed. They have turned from hunting, as an amusement, to pursue it as a business. This change, so far as it has had a tendency to wean them from warlike habits, and to teach them the value of industry, has been an advantage. The larger animals, upon whose skins they relied exclusively for their clothing, are no longer
necessary for that purpose. Nor is their diminution, upon the frontiers, so great a loss as is supposed. By the increased value given to small furs, they are enabled with equal, or less industry, to clothe themselves as well in woollens, as they did before the discovery, in skins. Robes of beaver, which were then worn, have given place to blankets. A beaver robe of nine skins, estimating them at an average weight and price, may be exchanged for goods sufficient to clothe an ordinary family, and will then leave the trader, who has been the medium of the exchange, a handsome profit. If the Indian has not derived an advantage from this altered state of things, we have read Smith and Malthus to little purpose. To facilitate the exchange of furs, certain conventional usages have been adopted. An abimenikwi, or beaver skin, is the standard of computation. Three martins, ten muskrats, three minks, two fishers, two foxes, four raw (or two dressed) deer skins, two raw (or one dressed) elk skin, are respectively equivalent to an abimenikwi. A fine otter, and a bear skin, are also each equal to a beaver.
The institution of the Totem exists in this tribe, in its full extent. There appear originally to have been ten families, having for their armorial badge, or totem, respectively, the eagle, the crane, the bear, the reindeer, the moose, the elk, the beaver, the martin, the wolf, and the snake. To these, times less remote are supposed to have added the mish'wa, a species of non-descript amphibious monster, the kingfisher, the catfish, the loon, and the ahah'wa, a species of duck. These emblems serve as points of identity for the family or clan. They form the rallying point, in questions of right or precedence; and are the undisputed evidences of consanguinity. The pride of the Indian is stimulated, or his revenge excited, by the applause, or contumely, which is bestowed upon his totem. He feels himself bound to fight or hunt, wrestle or play, if this touchstone of his feelings is brought into action. It is rare, however, that an Indian is named from his totem. It is a generic mark, or sign, a kind of sirname, to be exhibited only when necessary. Every Indian has his baptismal name, so to speak, given in youth. He has also his guardian spirit, or personal manito, the result of fasting and dreams in early life. In addition to these, most of them have one or two sobriquets. It is by the latter, that they are generally known; there being an unwillingness, on the part of the Indians, difficult to be accounted for, to disclose their proper name. Every one will see the advantages in a
government so loosely constituted as the Indian, of the existence of the totem, and the power of acting in condensed masses which it provides, when called forth by either religious, political, or superstitious feeling. We are decidedly of opinion, that it is the firmest bond of union amongst them, more permanent in its effects than the medicine dance or wabeno, and more powerful than the decisions of their councils of sages and ogemaus. The ruling power is at present exercised by the totem of the Crane.
Among those customs of this tribe, which have fallen, perhaps wholly, into disuse, the following is unique. It has reference to a condition of the tribe, in which they were were annually in the habit of raising fields of corn. Some time after the family had finished its planting, and when the grain began to shoot up vigorously, the wife or mistress of the family divested herself of her garments, and performed a circuit around the field, dragging her machecota, or petticoat, behind her. For this purpose, she chose the dusk of the evening, when the family had retired. When she had completed the nocturnal round, she clothed herself again with the same garments, and returned to the lodge. Just before daybreak, she repeated the ceremony. The time of this rite was carefully concealed from the family. The rite itself was supposed to ensure a fruitful crop, and to protect the grain from the ravages of vermin.
But we must hasten to the most important particular connected with the inquiry, the language; for whether we regard it as the means, whereby their origin and history can be traced, or as a guide in fixing the great family type, up to which, it is now pretty certain, all our Indian tribes can be traced, this is surely the most safe and durable monument. Change of country, climate, and fortune, may be supposed to effect great changes in the external habits and customs of barbarous nations, but it is long before the names for father and mother, fire and water, God and man, are radically altered.
A full examination of the subject would exceed the limits assigned to a review.* The space we can devote will, therefore, be occupied with general deductions; and we hope, on some future occasion, to furnish, both the limitations which
*The editor has omitted several learned and ingenious views of this part of the subject, in consequence of their having been partly anticipated in an able article in the last number of the North American Review; an article, which had not fallen under the eye of the writer of the present article.
are necessary to qualify broad rules, and the essential details upon which the rules themselves are founded.
Like all the American languages, of which we have any certain account, the Chippewa is of that generic cast, for which the term transpositive is provided by the older philologists. Though originally consisting of but few words, and those short in their utterance, and simple in their meaning, yet that amalgamating and transforming principle, by which personal pronouns are blended with the verb and substantive; by which the latter admits of prepositional prefixes, and of adjective and adverbal suffixes; by which all nouns are turned into verbs, and all verbs are turned into nouns ; and finally, that succedaneum for gender, by which the whole number of words is separated into animate and inanimate classes, must have, at the beginning, given a concrete aspect to the language. The effect of time, and the invention of new words, has been to load the primitives with double, and triple, and quadruple inflexions, pompous to the ear, and formal to the eye. It appears originally to have been a language of verbs and substantives only, or to have consisted wholly of names for persons and things, and names for acts, the relation of one to the other having suggested the necessity for those pronominal, prepositional, or adjective additions, which have alike enlarged the space, the sense, and the sound.
That a language thus constitituted possesses many advantages, on the score of consolidation and precision, that it is susceptible of fine turns of expression, and of throwing before the mind glowing and just pictures of the great phenomena of nature, as displayed in the heavens, or existing in the landscape of hills, and forests, and waters, we shall not deny. And it is equally certain, that it contains defects and barbarisms,—such as the want of a proper declension of the pronouns, the imperfect conjugation of the verbs in their compound tenses, and the limited use of the substantive verb,-which render it incapable of being placed at all on a parallel, in these and other particulars, with the languages of modern Europe. What cultivation would accomplish, we cannot say. We are of opinion, however, that it is too cumbrous for general use, and that the principles which are to be borne in mind in speaking it, are of so multiform a nature, as to offer serious obstacles to its ever being extensively used by the lower orders of the community. We are strengthened in this opinion by observing, that it is not one